Pompo: the Cinéphile could do with being a bit thornier, but it’s nonetheless a film that understand the power of movies in a unique, appealing way.
Takayuki Hirao’s Pompo: the Cinéphile is like Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, but anime. Imagine that film, but instead of Kirk Douglas’s brilliant sociopath as a producer you have a diminutive anime girl named Pompo who bursts into every room she enters announcing “Pompo is here!” Imagine Bad and the Beautiful not as a wicked satire of the phoniness and self-destruction and cruelty lurking beneath the silvery surface of the dream factory, but as an earnest expression of the power of movies to change lives for the better, and of the soul-inspiring work it takes to create true art. Pompo is a Bad and the Beautiful that actually believes in the movies and all they stand for, a movie that loves the cinema more than life itself. And a movie that truly understands that Cinema Paradiso is super boring.
Pompo is the writer-producer behind a successful B-movie studio. She assembles a young director, an inexperienced actress, and a long-retired star to make the kind of movie that wins a bunch of awards, a heart-warming story about a depressed conductor who learns to love life, and thus be able to make great art again, through friendship with a free-spirited mountain girl. The first third of the film uses a variety of flashbacks to establish the backgrounds of the major figures, the second the shooting of the movie, the final third the life-and-death struggle that is the editing process. Curiously, the three main characters (producer, director, actress) are all ambiguously aged, shorter and younger-looking than all the other, more adult characters. It’s the kind of anime convention that, for this writer, is tough to understand. It might be something as simple as the idea that the various coming-of-age emotions the film requires the characters go through are externalized in their physical appearances: They feel young, they still have much to learn, and so they look young. Regardless, it’s one of those weirdly unrealistic anime touches that you’d never see in a Hollywood movie that works really well.
Admittedly though, it works better when the artists are actually teenaged, as in the similarly themed but much thornier 2020 series Keep Your Hands Off, Eizouken! by Masaaki Yuasa, which is about a team of high school girls who work together to make an anime short. Like Eizouken, and seemingly most successful slice-of-life anime, Pompo was originally a manga, and it might be more suited to that format, where the clumsy feel-goodness of its conclusion is more balanced by its real strengths, namely its visualizations of the creative process. The director imagining himself slicing film strips with a laser katana while editing (despite the fact that all his editing is digital) is fun, and his recognition of the beauty of the expression on the face of his future leading lady as she unselfish-consciously hops through a puddle is worth more than all the conclusion’s well-meaning speeches about the power of cinema.
Originally published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 2.